World War II caused the United States and its citizens to ration certain materials with the purpose of keeping around important resources for winning the war — such as artillery.
The United States Treasury and the U.S. Mint followed suit.
While most people are aware of the steel Lincoln pennies which were produced in 1943, few people seem to know that the Jefferson silver nickels also spent a short period of time being produced under a special composition issue.
With nickel an important military material, the United States Congress required the U.S. Mint to begin striking nickels from a composition of copper (56%), silver (35%), and manganese (9%).
The silver Jefferson five-cent coin composition went into production on October 8, 1942 — just months before the metallic profile of Lincoln pennies changed to steel in 1943 to help ration copper for war ammunitions.
Here’s more about those silver Jefferson wartime nickels.
Jefferson Wartime Silver Nickels
With the U.S. Mint having already begun striking 1942 nickels in the usual 75% copper and 25% nickel composition, the use of the copper/ silver/ manganese alloy started late in 1942.
This special composition would last the duration of World War II thereafter — right on through 1945.
So-called “wartime nickels” (as they are typically called by collectors and coin dealers) are special in a number of ways…
Ironically, of course, there is no nickel in these nickels. Yet, most people still refer to the 1942-1945 silver 5-cent pieces as nickels anyway.
Numismatically, though, one of the most important points to make about these silver nickels is the fact that wartime nickels represent an important “first” in United States coinage history — they are the first U.S. coins to bear a “P” mintmark. “P” refers to the Philadelphia mint:
- Up until 1942, Philadelphia-minted coins never bore a mintmark. Philadelphia has always been the “main” U.S. Mint (or the U.S. Mint’s headquarters, to use modern corporate lingo), and no mintmark was attributed to those coins.
- After 1945 (the end of the silver war nickels period), U.S. coins would not again bear a “P” mintmark until 1979.
Another important issue to note about silver nickels and their mintmarks is the physical size of the mintmark:
- The wartime nickel mintmarks are huge — virtually unable to be missed by the naked eye.
- While some people have relative difficulty finding mintmarks on other U.S. coins, the same cannot be said of wartime nickels and their mintmarks.
- In fact, finding the large mintmarks over the dome of Monticello on the reverse of the coin is the easiest way to tell wartime nickels apart from “regular” nickels!
As the value of silver has risen over the past several decades, so has the demand for, interest in, and value of wartime nickels. With the rise in silver prices during the mid 1960s, the heavy spike in silver bullion values during 1979-1980, and recent inclines in the price of silver, collectors and investors alike have been paying more attention to this run of 11 different silver nickels which were produced during the height of World War II.
The 11 dates and mintmarks for silver nickels (or war nickels) are:
- 1942, Philadelphia (P)
- 1942, San Francisco (S)
- 1943, Philadelphia (P)
- 1943, Denver (D)
- 1943, San Francisco (S)
- 1944, Philadelphia (P)
- 1944, Denver (D)
- 1944, San Francisco (S)
- 1945, Philadelphia (P)
- 1945, Denver (D)
- 1945, San Francisco (S)
How Much Are Wartime Silver Nickels Worth?
Naturally, you’re probably wondering how much your wartime Jefferson silver nickels are worth.
While it’s important to keep in mind that most coins need to be physically examined and appraised by a professional coin dealer in order to determine their full value, most silver nickels in worn condition will be more or less worth their “spot” price. That is, the amount of money the metal inside the coin is worth. Since silver prices fluctuate hourly (yes, bullion can be and is a highly volatile market), it is wise to refer to a current silver price chart.
According to this silver pricing calculator, if silver values are $15 per ounce, then the silver in a wartime Jefferson nickel is 84 cents. If silver is $16, then the silver value of a wartime nickel is 90 cents. With prices at $17, a single wartime nickel contains 96 cents of silver.
If you have a Jefferson wartime nickel that is uncirculated or contains errors, your coin will be worth considerably more than the spot price.
Here’s an example of how much Jefferson wartime silver nickels based on today’s silver prices:
- 1942-P nickel — $1.25 and up
- 1942-S nickel — $1.25 and up
- 1943-P nickel— $1.25
- 1943-P, 3/2 nickel — $40 and up
- 1943-P, Doubled Eye nickel — $20 and up
- 1943-D nickel — $1.25 and up
- 1943-S nickel — $1.25 and up
- 1944-P nickel — $1.25 and up
- 1944-D nickel — $1.25 and up
- 1944-S nickel — $1.25 and up
- 1945-P nickel — $1.25 and up
- 1945-P Doubled Die Reverse nickel — $15 and up
- 1945-D nickel — $1.25 and up
- 1945-S nickel — $1.25 and up
- Uncirculated War Nickels — $5 and up
Did you notice that there are more than 11 coins listed in the values above?
That’s because there are few Jefferson wartime nickel errors worth noting called doubled die nickels!
The Bottom Line About War Nickels…
Silver Jefferson war nickels can be quite fun to collect.
This short series of just 11 coins (which are part of the larger Jefferson nickel series spanning from the current day back to 1938, when the first Jefferson nickel designed by Felix Schlag was first minted) can still be had for a relatively inexpensive price!
My love for coins began when I was 11 years old. I primarily collect and study U.S. coins produced during the 20th century. I'm a member of the American Numismatic Association (ANA) and the Numismatic Literary Guild (NLG) and have won multiple awards from the NLG for my work as a coin journalist. I'm also the editor at CDN Publishing (a trusted source for the price of U.S. rare coins), editor at the Florida United Numismatists Club (FUN Topics magazine), and author of Images of America: The United States Mint in Philadelphia (a book that explores the colorful history of the Philadelphia Mint). I've contributed hundreds of articles for various coin publications including COINage, The Numismatist, Numismatic News, Coin Dealer Newsletter, Coin Values, and CoinWeek. I've also authored nearly 1,000 articles here at The Fun Times Guide to Coins — and I welcome your coin questions in the comments below!